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UPDATE Struggle over candidacy of maverick Nicusor Dan hits reformist Romanian opposition as it prepares for high-stakes Bucharest elections next year / Allies promise common candidates
UPDATE Struggle over candidacy of maverick Nicusor Dan hits reformist Romanian opposition as it prepares for high-stakes Bucharest elections next year / Allies promise common candidates

With many months still to go until local elections take place in Romania, struggles have emerged within a key opposition alliance as preparations start for the Bucharest polls. The announcement of a maverick candidate for Bucharest mayor this weekend promises to reveal the capacity – or incapacity – of the opposition USR-PLUS alliance to really produce change.

  • UPDATE The USR-PLUS alliance announced later on Monday that it would have common candidates for all city halls across the country. It said a timetable for candidate selection would be decided within weeks. For Bucharest, it said it would pick one between Vlad Voiculescu (PLUS) and Nicusor Dan (independent candidate supported by USR Bucharest).

The original report:

The Save Romania Union (USR) has announced the candidacy of its former leader, Nicusor Dan, as its candidate for Bucharest mayor. This prompted discontent within the alliance USR has with the PLUS party, which fancies its own candidate for the job now held by an increasingly unpopular Social Democratic (PSD) mayor, Gabriela Firea.

Romania has just concluded the presidential elections, in which Liberal (PNL)-supported President Iohannis received a new term by defeating Social Democratic (PSD) candidate Viorica Dancila. PNL has just taken over government after a censure motion dismissed Dancila’s PSD government earlier this fall.

  • In the presidential poll, the candidate of the third biggest group, the USR-PLUS alliance, Dan Barna only came third with a result which was way below the expectations of many. This was a shock for the alliance, which is recent and presents itself as a movement bound to reform the political stage, away from the domination of traditional parties like PSD and PNL.

With these elections gone, Romanian politicians focus on the local and general elections next year. And the first pre-electoral struggles are already happening, and the fresh USR-PLUS alliance is the first to be affected.

The political clashes come as anger is building in Bucharest, as winter has come, over the incapacity of the city hall under PSD mayor Gabriela Firea to guarantee proper heating and hot water supplies across the city. This shocks many as, 30 years after the anti-Communist revolution and 13 years since the EU accession, the situation reminds of the hard times under the Ceausescu regime.

Now, USR has announced it supported Nicusor Dan as candidate for Bucharest mayor in the polls next year. Nicusor Dan has founded the precursor of USR, the Save Bucharest movement, but has since been defeated for party leadership and has left the Union. Given his experience with local elections in Bucharest, he has now gained back the support of the party as a character able to stand against Firea.

But that prompted a reaction from Dacian Ciolos, the leader of PLUS, USR’s allies. Ciolos pointed out that the agreement between the two groups was that each came up with a candidate from within the respective group and the best one would be chosen. He referred to Nicusor Dan not being part of USR.

PLUS had its own candidate announced earlier this year – Vlad Voiculescu, a young politician with a strong reputation but limited fame. And PLUS, the youngest relevant political group in the country, needs more political weight to secure more seats on electoral lists for the upcoming elections.

The issue is specially tense because may see it as a possible cause for a split in the USR-Plus alliance, unless the two parties reach a compromise.

  • And that would be terrible news for people in Bucharest who are discontent with PSD mayor Gabriela Firea. The new, Liberal government has promised efforts to change the legislation so that mayors be elected in two rounds of elections. Unless it does so, a single round is seen as favoring Gabriela Firea, with anti-PSD votes split between as many as four candidates – Nicusor Dan, Vlad Voiculescu, a candidate for the governing PNL (speculators favor the name of MEP Rares Bogdan, who would not properly confirm any interest) and a candidate for the smaller PMP party, Theodor Paleologu, who also announced his candidacy this weekend.

Mathematician turned activist Nicusor Dan, especially as an independent with the support of multiple parties (PNL not excluded), is seen by many as the only real challenger for Gabriela Firea. Yet, the struggle is only beginning.